Ratcheting up the tension in a haunting new adaptation of The Turn of The Screw

For someone who's not particularly a fan of watching horror, the genre is serving actress Maggie McCarthy pretty well right now.

Saturday, 2nd June 2018, 4:07 pm
Updated Tuesday, 26th June 2018, 2:46 pm
A scene from Turn of the Screw by Henry James (adapted by Tim Luscombe). Directed by Daniel Buckroyd. Designed by Sara Parks. Lit by Matt Leventhall. Picture by Robert Workman

She appears in the British horror film Ghost Stories released last week, and she's currently starring in a new stage adaptation of Henry James' classic psycho-drama Turn Of The Screw.

'I can't watch horror films myself, this is different, but really scary films I find difficult to watch,' she tells The Guide, ahead of bringing the play to The New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth.

James' novella is considered one of the landmarks in gothic horror fiction since its release in 1898, with several screen and stage adaptations, even an opera. It has also been a clear influence on Susan Hill's novel The Woman in Black as well as the Nicole Kidman-starring film The Others.

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This production of James' much-loved classic ghost story is faithful to the original and captures its much-celebrated ambiguity.

Set in 1840, a young governess agrees to look after two orphans, a boy and a girl, in Bly, a seemingly idyllic country house. But, shortly after her arrival, she realises that they are not alone. There are others '“ the ghosts of Bly's troubled past. The Governess will risk everything to keep the children safe, even if it means giving herself up to The Others. Years later, confronted by the past she is compelled to account for what actually happened to her and those under her protection.

The original text ends with a cliffhanger where the boy dies in the Governess' arms and the reader is left to draw their own conclusions.

Maggie plays Mrs Grose, the housekeeper, while Carli Norris, best known for her roles in EastEnders and Holby City, is the Governess.

The show originated at Mercury Theatre Colchester, before heading out on a nationwide tour.

'It's going really well, we're getting very nice house and all the "oohs" and "aahs", that we would like,' says Maggie.

'I was quite familiar with it - I read it years and years ago, but I also knew the opera and I had seen The Others, and the television adaptation a few years ago.

'Mrs Grose was always going to my part '“ I always play under-stairs, I seldom play upstairs.'

With only four in the cast, Maggie and Carli are joined by Annabel Smith and Michael Hanratty, they have become a tight-knit unit.

'It's been a really happy job, Colchester's a very nice place to work, it's a very happy company run there in Colchester by Daniel Buckroyd, who directed us and also runs the theatre there.

'It's an interesting new adaptation by Tim Luscombe '“ a look from a slightly different angle, there's a bit more of a mystery unfolding above and beyond what's already there.

'But let's not give anything away'¦'

While Turn of The Screw has been subject to much analysis, Maggie steered clear of it in her preparation.

'It's very well studied, and looked at and discussed, but on the whole I like to get things from the text. Over and above that, the only other possible bit of research would be on the period, but over the years I've done quite a few pieces set around this time, so I've got a little stack of knowledge about this time '“ the 1800s, what my life would be likely to be like in those days.

'For me, it's about the characters, if they're interesting, that's what I go for.'

And pleasingly for Maggie she was handpicked for the part.

'They asked me, actually, if I'd like to do it and I said: "Yes please!" It's very pleasant to not have to go through the process, which is what I have to do most of the time. It happens sometimes now though '“ to say "often" would be an exaggeration!'

New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth

April 3-7